Escaping the Wilderness

Does escape from our personal Wilderness always entail a gruesome All Is Lost Moment? Must we hit bottom before we can come back up?

I don’t think so. But the answer, it seems, always involves deep and serious introspection.

It could be psychoanalysis (of the talking kind, not the pharmaceutical) or its equivalent. Meditation perhaps. A mentor. A spouse. A friend. An ally who can provide the perspective (and the psychic safety) for us to face the demons we’ve been in denial of our whole life.

Or, if we’re really exceptional, we can do it on our own, looking deeply within.

Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire in “Rocky”

There’s an axiom in screenwriting that the All Is Lost Moment is embedded in the Setup.

Another way to put this is, “Your shrink gets your craziness in the first session. He or she could spell it out for you right then, but they won’t because they know you’ll only reject it. You need to come to it on your own.”

Consider Sylvester Stallone’s script for Rocky. We see in the opening scenes (the Setup) that Rocky’s issue is that the world sees him as “a bum”—and, worse, he agrees. Everything in Rocky’s life, from his horrible apartment to his job as a bone-breaker to his locker at the gym reinforces the psychic reality of his bum-hood. In the audience, we sense that Rocky, if he’s going to save himself, is going to have to come to a crisis point where he must confront this—and make the decision to overcome it.

Here’s that moment, the Epiphanal Moment, from just before Act Three:

…it’s true, Adrian. I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ’Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight. It really don’t matter if this guy opens my head either. ’Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody’s ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.

In Rocky’s case, he needed an All Is Lost Moment. He needed that Big Crash to give him the desperation to reach an Epiphany. But theoretically he could have come to that realization on his own or with assistance—as we said, a shrink, a mentor, a spouse, a friend—and, little by little, self-revelation by self-revelation, peeled back the onion till he came to its core.

There’s a word for this capacity.


I didn’t have it in my own life, that’s for sure. I needed to hit bottom.

But that moment is not inevitable. I salute anyone who can get there on his or her own. God bless you. That’s guts. That’s insight.

That’s wisdom.


Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Oriya on April 12, 2023 at 1:56 am

    I have been playing in my own all is lost moment for 5 years straight. what I found out is that it is ultimately demanded of us by us – the higher us, the deeper, wider no-body part of us that some-body is merely expressing by longing for itself. only in the dark, in somebody’s shattered story, can no-body emerge as the source for a connected and playful Somebody. Wisdom perhaps isn’t to be addicted to the all-is-lost moments as a way to escape the true work of integration. Nobody & Somebody dancing gracefully and violently.

  2. Cam on April 12, 2023 at 2:25 am

    Thanks Steven. I love your wise reminders.

  3. Jim Sapara on April 12, 2023 at 3:38 am

    Self-revelation by Self-revelation’ will resonate with me for the whole day. Thank you for this.

  4. Lucy Weir on April 12, 2023 at 3:38 am

    I’m not sure I’ve ever reached the ‘all is lost’ moment. There have always been two sides to it for me. Maybe that’s why I find it so hard to write, which is what I want to do more than anything. I find it hard to fit my story into any format. I want to write about a journey, but I also don’t. I want to write about the emergence into awareness that’s there all along, implicit in all that’s been done and all that’s been rejected. Each day brings disappointments, challenges, the uphill struggle to get anyone to read anything I’ve written. Yet my own son says I write better than almost all the philosophers he’s read. My own son. That’s praise indeed. He’s studying philosophy himself. That’s praise too. My relationship, my intimate relationship, is better than I could ever have imagined. If this is the price of obscurity, I’ll pay it. I’ll keep writing anyhow, even if what I say never sees the light. Write even if no one is looking. Just write.

  5. Gomez on April 12, 2023 at 3:43 am

    The professor in the first course I took for English majors, after I changed my major from physics to English, had as the them for her class that Great Literature would always express some aspect of the Human Condition. It didn’t have to be bound in leather with pages edged in gold; ;it could be from the rack at a grocery store. If it was great; we’d encounter something common to us all. It was our task in that class to find the author’s expression of the HC, as I took to calling it. I guess I’ll call you Stephen, even though I don’t know you….Stephen, your last post, you ripped the beating heart out of the HC and brought it out for us all to see. Today you have sewn it back in and set us on our way. God bless YOU. Thank you. I do not understand why your head is not wreathed in laurel leaves and you are not carried through the square on the shoulders of lesser men. Again, God bless you, and thank you.

  6. Kripa on April 12, 2023 at 3:55 am

    Thank you is all I want to say!

  7. Gomez on April 12, 2023 at 3:59 am

    Hey, Gomez here. I was still writing that! I didn’t mean to hit send! Oh, well. I got the beating heart part in. I think you know what I mean.

  8. Jesse Passmore on April 12, 2023 at 4:17 am

    Thank you Stephen!

  9. Saskia on April 12, 2023 at 4:38 am

    Yes, I know what you are talking about. I was not ready to get rid of addictive overeating behaviour before my body reacted so badly I needed to go to hospital and then, had to stop doing this shit, until my body got better. It was a “do you want to live or do you want to go on like this?” moment. It hit me hard. Before, I tried all sorts of things to get out of the behaviour, but nothing really lasted. It was too easy to fall back into old habits.
    Now I am facing my demons while not overeating and it is tough sometimes to have the chatter in the head saying: “Oh, you could just eat that thing, your body might be well with it by now.” knowing it would be the first step down the road again where I would end up in hospital again. Overeating is not as bad as being an alcoholic, but it can create similar health issues. They call it “non alcoholic liver problems” from overeating, it crushes that poor liver that just tries to keep you alive. For more than a week I was not knowing if I would survive, and what is the issue, and if I can get through that. Going from one hospital to another knowing: “You might have eaten yourself to death” – that`s an experience not to have twice in life.
    I didn`t need a mentor to get that this needs a life changing choice, one that lasts, for a healthy lifestyle. Not because I am exceptional, but because my body was my wise mentor in this decision.
    Becoming a “pro” in being healthy made me realize how much I am not a professional with my art. I still “snack” here and there, instead of making healthy choices and sticking with it. So all in all this is a turning point in my life`s story. Reading your mails and blog was a companion for a while now as I am struggling with addictive, non pro habits for years now. I love your books and the path they are showing. But I needed a huge stop sign to get to a turning point. Now your books will help me develop new “pro” habits and I am happy about this. Instead of filling my life with addiction, I can fill it with productivity. In the end, this will be the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

    • Sizwe on April 12, 2023 at 7:07 am

      Hey Saskia,

      Like Steve said on the last blog post, “How dangerous is our Wilderness Passage? It’s life-and-death dangerous. In the movies, heroes “make it out alive.” In real life, you can go down and never come back up.”

      I am thrilled that you were part of the select few that got to live to tell the tail. you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers. I will be rooting for you to finally take the monkey off your back for good.


    • Brian Nelson on April 12, 2023 at 7:19 am

      Addiction is a ‘Mike Foxtrot’. I recently came off nicotine, a habit that masked (what now seems like) ever-present, existential anxiety/fear/pain that I have avoided forever. Now I remember what it was like to try and study/do homework as a kid. I’d lose concentration within minutes.

      Just had a thought-maybe ADHD, addiction, and many of the other diagnoses we are so quick to label kids with are nothing more than trauma-related coping mechanisms. Maybe.

      In my withdrawal, I gained about 7-10lbs as well, which is not how I see myself either. Nicotine was a crutch for my own over-eating behaviors as well.

      Facing the demons without any weapons or body armor. My fun-meter is pegged…BUT, I am actually gaining some incredible insight into fear/anxiety/old pain. This feels like the first step towards wisdom.

      I don’t know you, but I am proud of you. Stick to it.

    • Jackie on April 12, 2023 at 3:40 pm

      May you find the courage and blessings you need. Wish you well.

  10. Susan P Casale on April 12, 2023 at 5:05 am

    Thank you, Steven! So succinct and eloquent. The wilderness……ah the sheer fear. I have met the enemy and it is me. God Bless You.

  11. Cody Rom on April 12, 2023 at 5:26 am

    I resonated with Rocky my entire life in terms of the hitting the bottom moments. I’m at that breaking point of self shrinking ( self-realization) that I must become my own hero , no one is coming to save me . Its do or die . Now or Never . I must burn my ship so that the only option left for me is to win.
    Thanks for your inspiration Steven !

  12. John J Checki Jr. on April 12, 2023 at 5:44 am

    Steven, Thank You for Writing Wednesdays, and the reminder, it is all about Wisdom. One of the primary Advantages of Aging for sure. Better to have it sooner rather than later if possible. Press On Pressfield.

  13. Joe Badalamente on April 12, 2023 at 6:13 am

    Probably the most inspirational moment from perhaps the most inspiring film of all time! And just what I needed to hear as I decided two weeks ago to leave a good job and turn pro as a writer. Thank you once again, Mr. Pressfield; you have been and will continue to be my Mickey, my Yoda and my Mr. Miyagi!

    • Steven Pressfield on April 12, 2023 at 10:53 am

      Joe, I didn’t know that! Good luck and God bless on your great adventure. You are definitely the real deal as a writer. I wish you all the best, my friend.

      Break a leg, baby!

  14. Kate Stanton on April 12, 2023 at 6:32 am

    Thank you, Stephen!! This is going in my “Driver’s Logbook”.

    I think of the Sufjan Steven’s song, “Chicago”–he sings, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes. I made a LOT of mistakes”…without those mistakes, and wisdom from them, he wouldn’t have written that amazing song.

    “for us to face the demons we’ve been in denial of our whole life”…
    I am my own worst enemy. I am stubborn and don’t like to accept help. I need help. I am seeking help–you cannot create in a vacuum. Not everyone is out to hurt you. My mantra today. I’m ashamed how self-centered I have been.

    Keep fighting!!

  15. Brian Nelson on April 12, 2023 at 7:40 am

    I saw Rocky in the theater when I was 7 years old. Watched it numerous times when VHS were cool. But it has been at least 30 years since I’ve seen it, and I didn’t remember him saying that to Adrian.

    What I have thought about is how Rocky actually lost the fight, but no one cared. No one remembered Apollo Creed, it was Rocky’s performance that is so inspiring. It is not the outcome that matters–it is in the way we are able to endure the pain and keep going that matters.

    To witness man going all in, leaving nothing, naked before the Gods–that is what inspires us. It is the fight. Like TR said so eloquently 110+ years ago, “…whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…but who does actually strive to do deeds…who knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly so (my favorite part of the quote) that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    • Nom de Plume on April 13, 2023 at 9:51 am

      I saw it in the theater as a kid too, and (as a kid) was entirely unimpressed. Why does everyone talk funny? Everything is so dark and dirty and trashy! He didn’t even win! I finally made a point to watch it a few years ago, and it was nice to realize that the years have in fact made me wiser, at least wise enough to recognize a masterpiece.

      And just between us unmet friends — I’m feeling pretty smug, since in last week’s comments I wondered whether the all-is-lost moment is necessary to save oneself. It’s a good feeling to be on the same train of thought as Sensei!

  16. Claudio Todino pla on April 12, 2023 at 7:42 am

    Brillante, inspirador, serotonina escrita, algo que impulsa al crecimiento, extraordinario como todo lo que usted escribe. GRACIAS.

  17. Jerry Ellis on April 12, 2023 at 8:40 am

    Wonderfully insightful essay. Thank you.

  18. Anonymous on April 12, 2023 at 9:20 am

    Very insightful and thought-provoking piece. Can we intentionally create the All is lost moment in our lives so as to have the” big crash to give the desperation to reach an epiphany”?

    Sidney Ogodo

  19. Maureen Anderson on April 12, 2023 at 12:00 pm

    Rabid Rocky fan here. My brothers could (and often did!) recite almost every line of dialogue. I’ve run up the Rocky Steps. When I need encouragement I play that soundtrack in my headphones. The last agent to pat me on the head and send me on my way did so with a suggestion to read a book my producer (and husband) called science fiction: Profitable Podcasting, by Stephen Woessner.

    Which fell squarely in the win column only because it includes an interview Sylvester Stallone gave Tony Robbins about how Rocky came to be. I thought I knew that story, and I was wrong. If you think the movie’s inspiring, it has nothing on that backstory. Makes me want to run a marathon and finish a couple of books just thinking about it!

  20. Janine Williams on April 12, 2023 at 2:16 pm

    Hey Steve, this is a very moving post. I loved Rocky when I first saw it, and the memory of it is still wonderful. Thanks for your insight, and may we, and our characters find wisdom.

  21. Brian Douglas on April 12, 2023 at 3:29 pm

    Geez, Steve, talk about hitting the bullseye. As 2020 approached, I thought I had it all figured out. Having made the decision to change careers (in what I only thought was an “All Is Lost Moment”), I had a good job in my new field with plenty of responsibility and just enough approbation to keep me hooked, I was cruising through grad school in my “spare” time towards my new future, and I was deep into preparation for my first Spartan race. All in all, a good place to be at 49.

    Then Covid hit, and within a few months, it all fell apart. What was eventually diagnosed as long Covid split me open and left me for dead. Pretty much everything that mattered to me was stripped away, and I was forced to stare into the abyss. School? Had to drop out due to crippling brain fog. Exercise? Hell, I had to rest on my way to the mailbox. Energy? None. Thank God for my wife, and for my remote job. And then even that went away thanks to all the tech layoffs.

    Am I sorry? Absolutely not! Because midway through the 2+ years I spent in the darkness, a spark emerged. Feeble and small at first, then bolder and brighter. Was it my answer? Nope, but it was the light I needed to get moving again.

    Now I’m writing for a living (resumes, but it’s a start), and the transformation my mind and spirit have gone through is remarkable. I went from an externally-motivated and driven “achiever” to an introspective, awareness-seeking creator. A work in progress for sure. Also feeling lucky and blessed, as I’m starting to feel like I know why I’m here for the first time in my life. Not just “know it”, but really feel it, way down deep. You and this wonderful community help me see that I’m not alone and that we’re all works in progress doing the best we can.

  22. Jackie on April 12, 2023 at 3:37 pm

    Great post today, thanks Steve. Wishing all insight and a bit of wisdom this week. Make the most with what you have.

  23. Anonymous on April 12, 2023 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you very much dear Steve, and all friends here,

    now that I had to endure shadow work and a kind of migration in my own country, indeed I lost my momentum but on the other side I experience this: a new wave of energy inside, an awe that’s kind of like this – like vital energy, like “eyes of the tiger”. Suddenly the desk+chair and the soft life are somewhat gone and I’m out there trying to survive and use all my creativity to make small steps towards all directions.

    It is fighting time.

    But it is not the book. That’s the problem for now, the Wilderness claims the great goal. Still I wonder: Let’s imagine someone’s life being like this: soft, in our beautiful house, full of all the amenities, beneath a sunny sky and a calm surrounding. On the other hand, let us imagine that we live a life of adventure, not exactly the touristic adventure but the hard one, the need to survive, the getting out there to go hunt and gather and surpass problems (most of them with hair on top?). This last one, this, doesn’t that constitute the best quality fabric of our soul concerning creating art?

    How can we write about fighting when we are in a soft situation? I can do that, but it is not exactly true. It is words then, soft feelings discuised in darkness because darkness is always there in our soul I guess. But how real is that darkness?

    On the other hand, I am sure that it can’t be that simple. In an endless world, the All is Lost situation is just another of the millions a human soul can face. So it would be somewhat stubborn to say that we must pass through this. Although it has something with a cinsiderable power in it, living the drama instead of reading it (books) or listening to it (music) or watching it (movies or travelling).

    Being Marcus or Maximus is the best? Can we be both, is that a kind of fulfillment of a man’s soul?

    Last night, almost asleep, I read a few pages from the Republic. It’s so beautiful! And strangely, it is a team passage, an adventure inside the safe walls of the city, many people, a social circumstance, a desire to think and analyze. But it’s out there again, not in the house. The old man says to Socrates that no, he doesn’t feel bad for not having sexual ability any more – instead he is happy about that because he is set free from that monster inside him, that cruel boss, sexuality. A monster lies beneath all our actions even we are just washing dishes to help our spouse.

    It’s so hard to tell which is best. I just feel like being Maximus is the best, or maybe essential, for all of us. I don’t know why though, since both states are equal in an endless world.

    • Tolis on April 12, 2023 at 9:48 pm

      (it’s my, Tolis, using a different browser my name wasn’t shown)

      • Tolis on April 12, 2023 at 10:09 pm

        A small comment on the “After the Wilderness” post:

        The hero’s journey and the artist’s journey – yes, they are both so important. Can’t we “be” both? And, together with that, can’t we also be in another state, the Resting Warrior’s journey? (just thought of that for achieving a ballance between movement and stasis – but what are the perfect analogies between those three? And should these analogies be always the same or flowing like a river in the seasons?)

        It’s so hard. To have time to go out there, and to sit and write, and to rest, and to do all social things, all in a good and well ballanced for a warrior portion. But being hard brings us to the compass that always shows true north maybe.

  24. Kyle on April 12, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    I enjoyed reading this and feel prompted to ask myself, what is something that someone else might notice about me, that I might need an All is Lost moment to figure out?

    I think awareness can be built through a 3rd person perspective to reflect on our own lives. We often are able to notice things about others, because they aren’t us but are an other. When we talk about ourselves we attach everything we thing is wrong or overly good about ourselves. If we can pretend for a little bit that we aren’t caught up in the web of our own lives and see ourselves as we might see a friend, we might be able to build some wisdom about our place in life and where it might make sense to go next or what to put/take away our energy.

  25. Mohamed on April 13, 2023 at 7:41 am

    Great meaning words …. I really need a book that explains my acts and my reacts against people… To know from where the problems coming from

  26. Greg on April 13, 2023 at 11:02 am

    I needed to read this today, I’m on the “return” stage of my heroes journey and it’s extremely hard. But if I don’t do it, my story will never be told. Thank God I found you Mr. Pressfield!

  27. CP on April 14, 2023 at 2:46 am

    Thank you.

  28. Kathryn Cooper on April 14, 2023 at 4:25 am

    Regarding whether the all is lost moment is required to gain true wisdom- I see two types of wisdom or two processes perhaps. The first, the self examination type, seems to be an adding of something, more knowledge, more insight. It happens more gradually. The revelatory kind, the quality of wisdom that comes from the all is lost moment deals more in subtraction. Layers are removed sometimes in an instant, and reality is revealed. They seem to me to be two distinct processes resulting in a different “quality” or impact. From my experience, the revelatory kind is so painful and disorienting in the beginning (thus “lost in the wilderness”) that is isn’t something one invites. Instead it grabs a hold of you and you are on the ride whether you want to be or not.

  29. Skyman Magic on April 17, 2023 at 11:08 am

    Great thanks for the information contained in this

  30. Avatar Game on April 20, 2023 at 1:57 am

    Thank You for Writing Wednesdays. Your writing is so great and I am waiting for next Wednesday.

  31. rankdle on May 19, 2023 at 8:31 pm

    It can provide a wake-up call or a moment of clarity that propels them towards seeking help, making positive changes, and ultimately finding their way out of the personal wilderness.

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  35. gorilla tag on August 21, 2023 at 12:06 am

    This post is extremely poignant. When I first saw Rocky, I adored it, and the memory of it is still fantastic. Thank you for your insight, and may we and all of our characters attain sageness.

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